Tag Archives: Tikkun Olam

Shavuot and the Christian Revisited

Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Shavuot”
Aish.com

tongues of fireIn the past, I’ve written quite a bit on the Festival of Shavuot such as Bamidbar and Shavuot: Souls in the Desert and What Should Shavuot Mean to Me. This holiday commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel at Sinai. Shavuot is also closely associated with the Pentecost event as recorded in Acts 2:1-13.

Of late, I have distanced myself from more formal expressions of Messianic Judaism, and so I decided to revisit the question “What should Shavuot mean to me?” I reviewed my previous comments on the matter. Things have changed even more since then.

In his commentary, Rabbi Packouz continued:

A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish. Remember: a parent only owes his child three things — example, example, example.

Well, that’s for a Jew. The Torah wasn’t given to the nations at Sinai and we didn’t inherit it either at Acts 2 or Acts 15. We have, by inference, received the promise of the Holy Spirit and Acts 10 does record non-Jews receiving such a Spirit, so the Pentecost event should have some significance for us.

But there’s a disconnect between people of the nations receiving the Spirit and other of the New Covenant blessings solely by the grace and mercy of God, and the Children of Israel receiving the Torah as the conditions of the Sinai Covenant.

So we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav should be cautious as to how much of Shavuot we claim, since it doesn’t belong to us. While I enjoy reading Rabbi Packouz and the other Aish rabbis, I’m distinctly aware that they are writing solely for a Jewish audience. It’s just that they can’t block any non-Jew who happens to visit their site.

As I was reading R. Packouz, a pop-up appeared inviting me to chat with an Aish.com Rabbi. I don’t know what I’d say and I’m sure he’d be in the same bind, hence I minimized the window.

I did come across another Aish article written by Rabbi Moshe Greene called The Yiddish Speaking Latino Cop. I won’t quote from it, but I encourage you to read it, as the article describes how a non-Jewish retired police officer named Donny became so close to a great chassidic leader, that he “picked up” Yiddish, and perhaps much more.

Tikkum OlamUltimately, the story is about encouraging Jewish unity, not the role of a non-Jew in that process. That said, it was Donny who asked Rabbi Greene a pointed question that resulted in his writing about the encounter for Shavuot.

But unlike Donny, we might not find ourselves in a unique position to have those insights and experiences that might actually cause a Rabbi to think in a new direction. However, as R. Greene mentioned (though regarding only Jews), we all can participate in the process of Tikkun Olam, or making the world a better place.

Perhaps for the Gentile, Shavuot is less about the Torah, the Sinai Covenant, the Festival, and the traditions, than it is a reminder that as possessors of the Spirit of God and in the name of our Rav, we too can do our part to make the world just a little bit better.

In that, there are no limits.

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Repairing the Non-Disposable World

This world is known as the “World of Rectification” (The Works of Kabbalah).

I wonder what the ancient Kabbalists would say about the modern world. Our everyday life certainly does not appear to be a “world of rectification.”

To rectify means to repair or correct an existing defect. This practice has become almost extinct. Years ago, things that went wrong were repaired; today, they are simply replaced. Replacing an item is cheaper than going to the trouble of having it repaired. When we add the vast numbers of disposable items that have become commonplace, we have a life-style where “rectifying,” at least of objects that we use are concerned, is a rather infrequent phenomenon.

Unfortunately, this attitude of replacing items rather than trying to repair them has extended itself from object relationships to people relationships. The most dramatic evidence is the unprecedented number of divorces. In the past, a couple that developed problems would try to repair the relationship. Most often, the attempt succeeded. Today, people do not want to waste time and effort; rather, they simply terminate the relationship and replace it with a new one. Human beings, much like styrofoam cups and contact lenses, have become “disposable.”

We would do well to make at least our interpersonal relationships comply with the Kabbalistic concept of “World of Rectification.”

Today I shall…

try to appreciate the unique character of an interpersonal relationship and make every effort to preserve it.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Nisan 18
Aish.com

disposable
Image: Hearst Newspapers

I know, I know. Kabbalah turns off a lot of people. Heck, even Talmud turns off a lot of people, generally Christians, and sometimes more specifically people who believe they can observe the mitzvot as written in the Torah without any interpretation by the Jewish sages.

Be that as it may (and setting aside any objections to Jewish mysticism for the moment), I think there’s an important lesson in the message above. Our modern western culture is one that values objects that are disposable rather than renewable or repairable.

We have disposable diapers, disposable cameras, disposable batteries, and so on. Consumer products are made with something called, “planned obsolescence,” that is, instead of making a car or a refrigerator that will last as long as possible and be repairable when broken, products are made to wear out within a certain span of months or years, and then the consumer has to buy a new one.

That gets expensive.

Heck, this has even approached the planetary level if you believe Stephen Hawking when he says the human race must colonize space to survive.

There are all kinds of people and groups, from Mars One (which some folks think is a fraud) to Elon Musk that are actively planning manned missions to the Red Planet with colonization as the ultimate goal.

I guess that means we get to burn out and use up the planet we currently live on. Just throw it away. Planets are disposable as long as we have other planets to colonize.

I seriously doubt we’ll get that far at least in my lifetime.

Mars One
Image: Space.com

Are people disposable?

Depends on who you ask. If you bring the abortion debate into the conversation, then pro-abortion folks believe that unborn children are disposable.

What about those of us who have already been born?

Rabbi Twerski, who I quoted above, mentioned that marriages are becoming more disposable all the time.

Yes, in some cases, I can see the need for a couple to divorce, in cases of infidelity or abuse, but I suspect, just like abortions, people become disposable simply because they become inconvenient. Problems are a nuisance to be avoided, not challenges to be overcome.

Again, I realize not all difficulties have a simple solution that preserves relationships, but too many people never even try.

There’s a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam which more or less translates as “Repair the World”.

The idea is that our world and everything (and everyone) in it are ultimately “fixable” rather than disposable.

Tikkun Olam can be applied to just about everything from environmentalism to marriage counseling. If something is valuable (and certainly our world is valuable), then we must become good stewards of what we have, taking care of it, maintaining it, protecting it, and when broken or damaged, repairing it.

Where to start?

How about with you?

cyborg repair
Emily Cyborg by Skidtography

I don’t mean “you” as a particular person such as “you have a problem,” but I mean “you” as in all of us, each individual. No one is perfect, and certainly some people are more “broken” than others. In order to be able to repair a broken world and the damaged people in it, we must first do that for ourselves?

What stops us from doing that?

Are you happy with who you are? Wish you could change, but don’t know how? Wondering how does one make real changes?

The formula is straightforward:

  1. Recognize that there is need for improvement.
  2. Make a decision to improve.
  3. Make a plan.
  4. Follow through on the plan.

What holds us back? We think we can’t change. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory, the founder of Aish HaTorah, would ask his students, “If God would help you, could you do it?” The answer is obviously “Yes.” Then he’d ask, “Do you think the Almighty wants you to change, to improve?” The answer again is obviously “Yes”. So, why is it so difficult to change? It’s too painful. One doesn’t want to take the pain of change. Only through taking the pain and realizing that time is limited will we change.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly” for the Seventh Day of Passover
Aish.com

Well, that sounds like a showstopper. No one likes pain. Remember, we make disposable things (and people) because we don’t like to go through the effort of repairing and maintaining things (and people).

But how can you be “disposable” to yourself?

Gee, that’s a tough one.

On another one of my blogs, I wrote about Everyone’s Hard Battle, which in this case means, the battle of depression and suicidal ideation. Interestingly enough, I also quoted from Rabbi Twerski in that wee essay.

psych couchThat other blogspot is dedicated to promoting exercise for the older person, and at least for me, sometimes lifting weights is better than seeing a shrink.

Maybe that’s the answer. No, exercise as a means of stress release and discipline isn’t the answer for everyone, but finding something you’re passionate about is. Find something that drives you, something that’s hard but also irresistible. You might have to choose something you’re only lukewarm about and over time, make it a habit. That’s sort of how my workouts at the gym evolved.

For many religious Jews, it’s studying Torah. For some Christians, it’s studying the Bible. It’s examining the Word of the Almighty, not just by reading your Bible periodically, but by consulting knowledgable resources, praying, and actively meditating over what you are learning, integrating that process into your life and every possible manner.

Making drawing closer to God your passion.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to repair yourself and thus begin to repair the world. No one can tell you your passion, you have to find it (or make it) for yourself.

God created our world and the people in it, and through human disobedience to Him, we broke the world and the people in it. But God made sure the world and the people are “fixable”. Someday, He will send Messiah who is the “ultimate fixer,” the King who will repair our world, but that doesn’t mean we have to leave it all to him.

It is said in Judaism that each act of Tikkun Olam performed brings the coming of Messiah one step closer. That means we are active participants in not only bringing our Rav and our King back to our world, but active participants in our own “repair work”. We are partners with the Almighty in the most awesome and ambitious construction (or re-construction) project ever conceived.

approaching GodThe only thing slowing progress down to a crawl is us. If we see ourselves as helpless victims, we go nowhere. If we see ourselves as empowered by God, as partners with God working to improve ourselves and improve the world, then we should have the motivation to overcome inertia, realize our brokenness can be repaired, decide to do something about it, plan on how to do something about it, and then actually do something about it.

We don’t have to do it alone. The all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing unfailing, creative, One God is our partner. So let’s get to work.

Perfecting Humanity

This week’s Torah portion is Noah — the story of the world being destroyed by a flood because of the way people treated each other (see Dvar Torah). It is a lesson that we all need to take to heart. Did you ever ask yourself, “What would it take to create a perfect world and perfect humanity?” Here’s my list. These are all ideas culled from the Torah, the Instruction Book for Life.

10 Rules for Perfecting Humanity

  1. Speak Properly
  2. Act with Honesty and Integrity
  3. Respect Others
  4. Be Kind to Others
  5. Study Wisdom
  6. Work for a Cause
  7. Be Humble
  8. Pray
  9. Make a Daily Accounting
  10. Be Real with God and Life

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly
Aish.com

NoahGiven that I’m reasonably “settled” in what I have to do and how I have to do it in having a relationship with God while also being “Judaicly aware” (not that I’m very good at doing it all), I haven’t expected to write much more on this blog, or at least I thought I wouldn’t write very often.

But since the Torah Portion for this week is Noah, the story of a righteous Gentile, and that Judaism considers Hashem’s covenant with Noah (all living things, really) to be binding on all non-Jewish humanity even to this day, I thought I should draw some attention to the Rabbi’s commentary.

Notice that the list above are 10 rules for perfecting humanity not just Jewish people. Of course, Rabbi Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, but I don’t think that invalidates the application of his advice to the rest of us. Also notice that the advice applicable to the Gentile was derived from the Torah.

Someone (a non-Jewish believer) commented on this recent blog post that the Torah is universal. He meant that every detail and every mitzvah is universally applied to all human beings who are either Jewish or Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus).

Well, of course the Torah is universal. Rabbi Packouz’s list illustrates this perfectly. However, that there are principles and even praxis in the Torah that are equally relevant to the Jew and Gentile doesn’t mean that all of Torah is equally applicable.

But let’s take what we’ve got in the list above.

First, go to the original article and read how R. Packouz “fleshes out” each item on the list.

Next, let’s consider how well each of us does on a daily basis in fulfilling every one of the ten items above.

Do we speak properly? This pretty much means not engaging in gossip or idle chatter about other people, even though there are some folks who get an emotional charge out of tearing someone else down, especially when that someone else has made mistakes and is reaping the consequences.

That sort of goes along with item 4: Be Kind to Others. No matter how unappealing or even sinful a person looks on the outside, first remember that none of us is perfect either, and then realize that everyone is fighting a hard battle, not just you.

cookie jarDo we act with honesty and integrity? As disciples of Rav Yeshua, I hope so, but let’s face it, more than one religious person, Christian and Jew, has been caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar. Sometimes how we recover from a mistake tells more about our character than never making one.

Do we respect others? I guess I should have put this one in with items 1 and 4, since our respecting all other people based on them also being created in the image of the Almighty would probably eliminate the vast majority of unkind and improper behavior in the world.

Study Wisdom. In this case R. Packouz cites both Torah and Pirke Avot, but I find it interesting that Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” Clearly, both Packouz and Roosevelt are saying very similar things. Acts 15:21 also seems to imply that the non-Jew can benefit from being grounded in Torah study (the Christian Bible obviously didn’t exist at that point in time) and there’s a lot to gain for a non-Jew studying Torah besides merely learning to imitate Jewish praxis.

Work for a Cause. They say charity begins at home but it doesn’t end there. Even if we sometimes question exactly what our mission is on Earth from God’s point of view, it’s pretty easy to look around our community and see needs. Find one you can fulfill.

Be Humble. That’s hard to do in the blogosphere. You’d think religious bloggers would be experts at this one, but often the exact opposite is true. R. Packouz says that wisdom only enters a humble person, so item 5 does nothing for you unless you also practice item 7.

Pray. Again, hopefully we are all doing this every day…maybe even every hour depending on what’s happening in our lives. These aren’t just petitions to fulfill personal needs, although this too is appropriate in prayer. Many of the personal prayers we find in the Bible are praise to God. Also, praying goes along with items 3, 4, and 6. When we pray for others, we integrate them into our thoughts and emotions, and out of that, we can act to be the answer to their prayers.

Make a Daily Accounting. This is an ugly one. Oh sure, if you’re a saint and you never sin, then this accounting is your personal victory list for the day. However, if you are a human being, there are bound to be at least a little bit of red on your ledger that needs to be wiped clean.

waiting-for-godBeing real with God would be easy, you’d think. He knows everything, after all. You can lie to others convincingly, but you can’t lie to God (no matter how much you might want to sometimes). Being real with God is baring your soul to Him. Being real with life is applying your relationship with God to your lived experience and connections to other people.

So, you’ve been through the 10 rules for perfecting human beings. You don’t have to say how you did. I’m certainly not going to share the gruesome details about my performance on the list.

But you can share it with God and see how He can help you and me be better tomorrow than we’ve been today.

Fish Out Of Water

FishOutofWaterA true master of life never leaves this world—he transcends it, but he is still within it.

He is still there to assist those who are bonded with him with blessing and advice, just as before, and even more so.

Even those who did not know him in his corporeal lifetime can still create with him an essential bond.

The only difference is in us: Now we must work harder to connect.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Connecting”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

“The Son of David will not come till a fish is sought for an invalid and cannot be found.”

-Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a

The Son of David is a diminutive reference to the Messiah, who will be a descendent of the royal house of David, King of Israel. The diminutive reference is strange in itself, but even more strange is the contention that the coming of the Messiah is dependent on an invalid in search of an unfound fish. What did Rabbi Menachem Mendel see in this passage that could reflect on his present situation?

-Rabbi Eli Rubin
“Lisbon 1941: The Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish:
The private journal of the Lubavitcher Rebbe reveals a dual vision for the future of humanity”
Chabad.org

My wife sent me the email version of Rabbi Rubin’s article about the Rebbe, the Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish and I still can’t figure out why. Maybe she just thought I’d find it intellectually stimulating or maybe she was sending me a message about my faith in Jesus as Messiah.

I do find it stimulating, which is why I’m writing about it, but more than that, I think the Rebbe’s message about Messiah tells us something about ourselves.

But I’ll get to that in a moment. One of the things I found in the article and learned at some previous point in time is that at least within some streams of Judaism, there is no single scenario that is thought to bring the Messiah. As far as what the Rebbe was teaching he said that there were two different generations that could possibly see the Messiah come: one that was entirely worthy or one that was entirely unworthy.

Seems contradictory and unnecessarily complicated from a Christian point of view. We tend to think that the Messiah will come when he comes. It’s up to God, not us. We can’t do anything about it and we certainly can’t be “worthy” of his coming.

…as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”

Romans 3:10-11 (NRSV)

But then, as my wife has told me before, Christians and Jews think in fundamentally different ways. As I previously said, in certain areas of Judaism, it is thought that people have the ability to change the timing of Messiah’s arrival based on our collective behavior. That then lends itself to multiple circumstances by which Messiah could appear (or “return” from the Christian perspective):

Rabbi Menachem Mendel offers two explanations of the earlier passage, corresponding to these alternative scenarios. In the first, the redemption is well deserved due to the lofty station at which society has arrived; in the second, redemption is bestowed because the alternative is utter deterioration.

This brings us back to our invalid: The diminutive designation “Son of David” indicates that the redeemer is worthy of his messianic status only due to his lineage. Likewise, the generation to be redeemed is also deficient, suffering from the spiritual maladies of sin and moral degeneration.

At a time when the world was ailing, and the Holocaust was already underway, Rabbi Menachem Mendel confronted the paradoxical possibility of evil in the presence of G‑d. The cause of such spiritual illness, he wrote, is human forgetfulness. We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.

lisbon-to-new-yorkThe Rebbe’s commentary didn’t come out of a vacuum. The backdrop for all this was the Holocaust, World War Two, when the Rebbe and his wife were trying to leave Lisbon for the United States to escape Nazis in 1941. The time when the world went mad or as mad as anyone thought we could get up to that point.

“We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.”

Well, yes and no.

“Yes,” in the sense that when we believe we are doing “evil” or anything wrong, we cannot simultaneously be acutely conscious of the fact that God is watching over our shoulder, so to speak. It would be like a man cheating on his wife while his wife was in the same room. If we choose to sin, we must temporarily pretend that God isn’t watching in order not to be immediately seized with horrible guilt (of course if we are wired correctly in a moral and spiritual sense, we should experience guilt anyway, even without a direct awareness of the presence of God).

But it is also “no” in the sense that we do “evil” and do not recognize what we are doing is evil. People who operate within the bounds of what you might call “self-righteousness” are quite guilty of this and also quite unaware of their guilt. In fact, they might feel completely justified and even believe that God approves of their evil acts, calling their evil “good.”

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

The Westboro Baptist Church is the most extreme example I can think of within “Christianity,” though I don’t count them as disciples of Christ. They perform heinous acts against grieving families of American military personnel who have died in the service of our country and believe it is somehow all for the glory of Jesus.

Of course, most believers commit such “evil” in far less spectacular ways but they are no more conscious of their wrongdoing than the aforementioned Westboro folks. Confront them if you will, but they’ll turn every argument you make against you (and that’s happened to me more than once) as if you, in attempting to uphold the Biblical principles of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion are making terrible Biblical errors and their own fire-breathing doctrine is the only way to please God.

That makes the following statement all the more ironic.

This is where the Talmudic fish comes in. Fish are a metaphor for the knowledge that we are ever submerged in the presence of G‑d. Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence. It is at a moment that G‑d’s presence is utterly hidden—when no fish can be found for the invalid—that the redemption must arrive.

Ironic and true.

We live in a world where no fish can be found, when it seems as if the presence of God has completely left our world. Good literally is being called evil and evil is literally being called good in terms of the various social priorities and journalistic pronouncements we find daily in the popular media.

I keep expecting Jesus to come around the corner at any second, given what the Rebbe has said.

“Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence.”

We are one sick and dying fish.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s second interpretation lays out the flip side of this vision. So long as the hand of G‑d has not yet been forced, and the redemption has not yet arrived, the burden of responsibility still lies on the shoulders of humanity. We can repair the world, so we must repair the world, ultimately bringing it to an era that is “entirely worthy” and ripe for redemption. In an era of human perfection, man will strive to lose all sense of ego, desiring to become utterly submerged within the divine self.

But maybe not completely dead (though I wouldn’t say we can possibly be “worthy”).

feeding_the_hungryAt least from a Jewish point of view, we can do something to help. Maybe we can’t actually summon the Messiah, which is what a Christian believes, but we can still be more “Messiah-like.” Some Christians used to wear those “WWJD” or “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets, but we can go one better and just do what Jesus would do in the world. What did he teach? Is the answer going to come as a big surprise?

Feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the grieving, help anyone hurting in whatever way they need help. Change someone’s flat tire. Volunteer to take “meals on wheels” to the elderly and the infirm. Pick a need and fulfill it. I don’t care which one. Just quit being a “sick fish” by going out of your way to hurt other people because that is your special or only way of “serving” God.

According to the Rebbe’s metaphor, the fish is “sick” for the love of God but as immersed as the fish is, the fish and the water aren’t ever going to be the same thing:

Similarly, the worthy invalid is “sick” with love for G‑d, desiring utter submergence but unable to cross the infinite divide separating man from G‑d.

The best we can do, and that’s only by the grace of God, is to imitate our Master in how we do good to others. Maybe that will bring the Messiah back sooner and maybe it won’t but it sure couldn’t hurt. In fact, it probably will do some good, if not in a cosmic sense, then at least in a down-to-earth human sense.

Four decades later, Rabbi Menachem Mendel delivered a public talk in which he explained that at every moment we face two very different visions of the future. On the one hand, we anticipate the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good; on the other hand, we invest long-term commitment and energy into a more gradual transformational process, changing the world from the bottom up.

I don’t believe the world and the people in it are anywhere near “the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good.” Looking at the news headlines for five minutes will tell you that humanity is no better now than at any time in the past, and some might argue that we’re getting worse all the time. That leaves the Rebbe’s “Plan B:” investing in a long-term commitment to gradually transform the world from the bottom up, one act of kindness at a time.

Multiple sources have been attributed to the famous quote, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” Whoever first said it knew what they were talking about. Sitting on your bottom and doing nothing isn’t actively “evil” but it does nothing to produce “good.”

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

-Edmund Burke

That’s pretty much it. How many “good men” did nothing while six-million Jews died? How many good men have done nothing while countless men, women, and children starved, or died in wars, or died in riots, or died due to political indifference to human rights?

Doing nothing won’t keep you safe and doing evil in the name of good is just as bad or worse.

If we are truly connected to God and truly love Him, then we have no choice but to also love human beings. God loves human beings…all of us, regardless of race, creed, color, nationality, language, and (gasp) religion. Like it or not, God loves the Muslim, the Taoist, the Buddhist, as well as God loves the Christian and the Jew. God loves us even though we screw up pretty much all the time, even the best of us.

If we restrict our love, then we are hardly being “Christ-like” and thus we’ve already tainted our response to God and our ability to do good in the world.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

Matthew 5:46

rocket-scienceThis isn’t rocket science. This isn’t esoteric and arcane knowledge hidden within the murky depths of some obscure part of the Bible. This is the “easy stuff.” Well, it’s easy in that it’s pretty easy to comprehend. Obviously given the state of certain areas of the religious blogosphere and various believing congregations, home groups, and families scattered across the landscape, it’s not really that easy to do, otherwise there’d be a power surge of constantly doing good in the world.

Take a look at the last time you talked to another person. Was it in kindness, indifference, or anger? If you’re a blogger (or you comment on blogs), what was the last topic you wrote or commented on? Were you encouraging and supportive? Were you insulting and accusatory? Given everything I’ve written so far, you should be able to quickly figure out if you’re doing the will of the Master in the world or the opposite.

Do not bring us into the power of error, nor the power of transgression and sin, nor into the power of challenge, nor into the power of scorn. Let not the Evil Inclination dominate us. Distance us from an evil person and an evil companion. Attach us to the Good Inclination and to good deeds and compel our Evil Inclination to be subservient to You. Grant us today and every day grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us.

-from the Siddur

You’re either a fish in the water immersed into the reality of God or you’re a fish out of water (Marco Polo). If you’re out, then you’re dying and you don’t even know it. You think you’re in a vast ocean when in fact, your tiny little puddle is evaporating like a raindrop in the Arizona desert sun in August. You don’t have much time.

I don’t believe people will ever be “worthy” enough for the age of Messiah to come. I think our world and the people in it will continue to degrade until he either comes or we destroy ourselves, eating each other alive. But those of us who are disciples of the Master can continue to strive to be a little more like him every day. In that way, maybe he will find at least a few people who have faith when he finally returns, may it be soon and in our day.

 

Inspiring Hope

moshiach-ben-yosefThe Jewish people believe in what’s called the End of Days. This isn’t the final end of the world – but merely the end of history as we know it. After the End of Days the world will continue as usual, with the big exception that there will be world peace.

As the End of the Days approach, there are two paths that the world could take. The first is filled with kindness and miracles, with the Messiah “given dominion, honor and kinship so that all peoples, nations and languages would serve him; his dominion would be an everlasting dominion that would never pass, and his kingship would never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14) This scenario could be brought at any moment, if we’d just get our act together!

The other path is described as Messiah coming “humble and riding upon a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). In this scenario, nature will take its course, and society will undergo a slow painful deterioration, with much suffering. God’s presence will be hidden, and his guidance will not be perceivable.

According to this second path, there will be a valueless society in which religion will not only be chided, it will be used to promote immorality. Young people will not respect the old, and governments will become godless. This is why the Midrash says, “One third of the world’s woes will come in the generation preceding the Messiah.” (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Handbook of Jewish Thought”)

“End of Days”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series
Aish.com

This probably sounds a little different than how Christians understand the “end times,” particularly the interpretation of Zechariah 9:9, but if you click the link I provided and continue to read, you’ll see there are a lot of similarities between the Jewish and Christian “end times scenario.” One thing I’m particularly interested in is that, from the Jewish perspective, the “End of Days” isn’t the end of the world. Some Christians I’ve talked to believe that when Jesus comes, and after all of the stuff that happens in the Book of Revelation, the Earth will be destroyed, all the Christians will go to Heaven, and everyone else will burn eternally in Hell.

But the Jewish point of view reads more like how I understand John’s revelation. The people of God don’t go to Heaven, “Heaven” comes down to them (us).

Another interesting thing (for me, anyway) is how we seem to have a choice as to which road to take. A world filled with kind and just people who give Messiah “dominion, honor, and kinship” and with “all peoples, nations and languages” serving him, will merit a world of everlasting dominion by the Messiah, but only “if we’d just get our act together!”

That doesn’t seem very likely. The alternate choice seems to be the one we see unfolding before us at the moment:

According to this second path, there will be a valueless society in which religion will not only be chided, it will be used to promote immorality. Young people will not respect the old, and governments will become godless. This is why the Midrash says, “One third of the world’s woes will come in the generation preceding the Messiah.”

That is a very good description of the world we live in today…and it is also the world that we merit by our action or rather, our lack of action. However, the Aish Rabbi also provides a message of hope.

Despite the gloom, the world does seem headed toward redemption. One apparent sign is that the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel and made it bloom again. Additionally, a major movement is afoot of young Jews returning to Torah tradition.

By the way, Maimonides states that the popularity of Christianity and Islam is part of God’s plan to spread the ideals of Torah throughout the world. This moves society closer to a perfected state of morality and toward a greater understanding of God. All this is in preparation for the Messianic age.

The Messiah can come at any moment, and it all depends on our actions. God is ready when we are. For as King David says: “Redemption will come today – if you hearken to His voice.”

We have hope for the redemption yes, but what will rouse us out of our world of darkness and despair into that light and hope?

Just as when the world was created — it was first dark, followed by light.

-Shabbos 77b

Reb Tzadok HaKohen (.‫ (צדקת הצדיק – קע‬elaborates upon the theme of this Gemara. When Hashem wants to shower a person with goodness and blessings, He waits for the person to daven and to ask for this benefit. In order to motivate the person to call out in prayer, Hashem will direct a certain element of distress or some sort of fear in his direction in order for the person to call out to Him.

light-ohrDaf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
Commentary on Shabbos 77b

It would certainly seem as if Hashem, as if God were directing elements of distress or fear into our world and waiting for us to daven, to pray, to call out to Him. How can we, as people of faith, conclude otherwise?

But a word of caution.

what does pres mean Gd has called the children home. their place is w/ their parents not at the heavenly throne. we must object 2 suffering

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
on twitter

Some Christians have given in to the temptation to use tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings to say some hurtful things. They say these children were murdered to punish our nation for various sins, including some states allowing gay people to marry, that God “isn’t allowed in our schools,” and because abortion is legal in our country.

On the other hand, Rabbi Boteach is telling us that the death of innocent children makes no sense, is not desired by God, and must be resisted and objected to with every last bit of our strength, will, and compassion.

Frankly, given the choice, I’d rather go with Rabbi Boteach’s interpretation than what some of these Christians have said (including our President).

I was thrilled yesterday to get an email from my reclusive friend, Daniel Lancaster. Many of you know him from his books and especially as the author of the massively popular Torah Club volumes. He is a great writer and leader. His congregation, Beth Immanuel in Hudson, Wisconsin, has launched a new initiative acting with tangible love for Messiah to repair one broken place and assist in the lives of some people whose world is splintered and needs mending.

Beth Immanuel has adopted a worker, a Messianic Jewish woman who is putting her life on the line and her love into action in Uganda: Emily Dwyer.

They have launched a website and a plan to raise support to sustain Emily’s work in Uganda. They are baking challah bread, with Emily’s own recipe, as an ongoing fundraiser.

Recently, Emily spoke at Beth Immanuel and two of her messages are posted online. You can hear Emily Dwyer speak at this link (and be inspired — she is a speaker worth listening to).

You can see more about “Acts for Messiah,” the partnership between Beth Immanuel, some other affiliate congregations, and Emily Dwyer’s community in Uganda at ActsForMessiah.org.

-Derek Leman
“An MJ Congregation Acts for Messiah”
Messianic Jewish Musings

We can resist. We can fight back. We can strive for goodness in our world and promote hope in the people around us, regardless of where we may find ourselves. This message is also reflected in the commentary of the Aish Rabbi.

In many ways, the world is a depressing place. But life is like medicine. Imagine a person with a serious internal disease. Taking the right medication will detoxify the body by pushing all the impurities to the surface of the skin. The patient may look deathly ill – all covered in sores. But in truth, those surface sores are a positive sign of deeper healing.

The key is to maintain the hope of redemption.

How can we hasten the coming of the Messiah? The best way is to love all humanity generously, to keep the mitzvot of the Torah (as best we can), and to encourage others to do so as well.

HopeTo promote hope, we must have hope. To inspire the will to do good, we must possess that will and we must do good. This is the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity. God has allowed a world of darkness and we are responsible for lighting it up.

“Know the G-d of your fathers and serve Him with a whole heart.” (Divrei Hayamim I, 28:9) Every sort of Torah knowledge and comprehension, even the most profound, must be expressed in avoda. I.e. the intellectual attainment must bring about an actual refinement and improvement of character traits, and must be translated into a deep-rooted inward attachment (to G-d) – all of which is what the Chassidic lexicon calls”avoda”.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Tevet 6, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

I can’t tell you why bad things happen. Sure, sometimes God may be trying to get our attention, but my radar into God’s motivations isn’t particularly accurate or insightful. I also don’t think it’s particularly helpful to point fingers and place blame upon political parties, advocacy groups, or any other folks. Yes, I’ll probably still complain about politics and people from time to time, but when I actually want to do the will of my Father who is in Heaven, then I must actually do for other people.

James, the brother of the Master, famously said that faith without works is dead. If that’s true, then complaining about the inequities, hardships, and tragedies of life, with or without faith, is also deader than a doornail.

Choose doing. Choose life. Inspire hope. If we continue to help repair the world, the “end of days” and coming of Messiah will take care of themselves.

Rosh Hashanah: Are We Ready To Approach God?

The words we say are spoken in the heavens. And yet higher. For they are His words, bouncing back to Him.

On Rosh Hashanah, we say His words from His Torah recalling His affection for our world; He speaks them too, turning His attention back towards our earthly plane.

We cry out with all our essence in the sound of the shofar; He echos back, throwing all His essence inward towards His creation. Together, man and G‑d rebuild creation.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Cosmic Mirror”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

The process of Tikkun Olam or “Repairing the World” is well understood in Jewish thought and I’ve blogged on this topic many times before. I think it is a perfect way for both Jews and Christians to understand our relationship with God, especially as Rosh Hashanah is nearly upon us, and God has His “cosmic finger” poised over the universal “Reset button,” so to speak.

And yet, during the most holy time on the Jewish religious calendar, the world is a very troubled place. The U.S. Consulate in Libya was recently attacked and Egyptian protesters mounted an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. And while the nuclear threat Iran poses against Israel seems terribly imminent, the U.S. citizens and government largely oppose intervening to defend Israel.

Even within the community of faith in Christ, there are many different voices who actively oppose one another and malign fellow believers, even as God urges us to establish peace with our brother and the Messiah’s law requires that we love one another.

How can we say that we are “partnering” with God in repairing His Creation when we can’t even resolve simple disagreements between ourselves?

The person who is truly fortunate in this world is the one who has authentic trust in the Almighty. He is able to sustain a feeling of well-being when things go well as well as when things are challenging. He experiences a sense of well-being whether he has a lot or a little. He experiences this well-being whether people meet his expectations or whether they don’t. His well-being is constant, because his trust in the Almighty gives him the awareness that his life has a plan that is specially designed for his welfare. The nature of that plan becomes clearer all the time. The reality of what occurs in his life is what Hashem in His infinite wisdom knows is ultimately best for his unique spiritual needs.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Being Truly Fortunate, Daily Lift #575”
Aish.com

I’ve talked about trusting God before, but it’s a lesson that needs to be repeated since, after all, we human beings don’t trust each other very well, let alone an infinite and invisible God. How can we trust Him to provide us our every need when millions go hungry every day; when millions don’t even have access to clean drinking water; when millions are sick, starving, suffering under terrible oppression, raped, tortured, and murdered?

ForgivenessYet we people of faith who live comfortably in the United States or other well-fed Western nations, argue about our rights and our theologies and our doctrines while our stomachs are full, our homes are adequately warmed or cooled, we drive to and from our jobs in cars, and no one threatens to kill us because of the God we claim as our own.

Rabbi Freeman describes God and Heaven as a sort of “mirror” which reflects the holiness of the words of Torah back upon the faithful ones who utter them in the synagogues during these special “Days of Awe.” I’d like to suggest that God is also a mirror, not just of our holiness, but for everything else that we are, including the ugliness of our greed, selfishness, narcissism, envy, and hypocrisy. Dream not of today and your comforts, pleasures, and desires, but instead stare into that mirror and realize, like the beautiful and self-indulgent Dorian Gray, there is a consequence for every unkind word we speak, for every vengeful thought we allow to be expressed within us, for every time we seek our needs at the expense of another.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:15-19 (ESV)

If I were to reword the last set of statements from the Master and address them toward all of us, I might say, “Disciples of the Jewish Messiah, do you love me more than your own theological baloney and self-serving doctrines?”

I wonder what we would answer if he caught us in one of the recent blogosphere “debates” arguing over which theology of ours is the “greatest” and he chastised us all for our unloving attitudes and lack of respect for one another?

For many Christians, Rosh Hashanah is just another day in the life and it does not register on the calendars of most churches and believers in Jesus. But for those of us among the nations who feel somehow connected to the “Jewishness” of Jesus and seek an affinity with the origins of our faith, we should be paying attention to God and our own frailty, not to our rights and our wants. We should be intensely aware that Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown this coming Sunday, and an accounting will be asked of us by God. God will ask us to explain why we failed Him so many times over the course of the year. He will not ask us our opinion of why we believe someone else we don’t like may have failed God. Pay attention to your own eyes and let God take care of the splinter in your brother’s eye.

With such an awesome and majestic encounter before us, how should we be preparing our spirits to enter the Presence of the King? We’ve had an entire month to soften our hearts toward God and our fellow human being. Are we ready or have we been wasting our time on futile pursuits?

God is waiting for us. How shall we approach Him?